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  • Jeremy Parrish _ Staff - CurriculumInst

Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

(This blog post is a third one on Re-envisioning schools)

"Let us go and make our visit."-- "The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock

T.S.Eliot is one of my favorite poets, and hands down “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” is my favorite Eliot poem. In some ways, our educational system has been somewhat like Prufrock, asking that “insidious question.” So much of the innovation that we have been talking about up to this point has hemmed on the question, "Do I dare disturb the universe?", and we have been like Prufrock to proclaim, “In a minute there is time/ For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.” This thinking and rethinking of learning has kept us largely not contemplating real change in our systems and structures, which now we are thrust into, and have had to react. But what would happen if we took this opportunity to truly turn education upside down?

In the past few weeks, I have written about the impacts of COVID19 on schooling. One of my posts at the onset of the pandemic focused on reveling in the moment and learning about yourself. The second one started looking at the adaptivity that we had to do in short order as we transitioned to remote learning and how these inevitable lessons learned should transform teaching and learning.

Now, with my state following suit with others and closing school buildings for the rest of the year and with questions swirling about what fall might look like, more and more we are starting to think about how we can open schools and keep children safe. More and more, we are coming to the realization that schools may have to be innovative and the most adaptive they have ever been asked to be.

When we envision innovation, often that innovation is envisioned within the structure of what school already looks like. Now, we may well be needing to envision what the actual structure looks like.

This is a huge charge for school districts and leaders, and I hope that we can break from linear leadership thinking that plagues so much of our educational systems. When we envision innovation, often that innovation is envisioned within the structure of what school already looks like. Now, we may well be needing to envision what the actual structure looks like. This idea will be paramount to practice social distancing and to make learning environments safe for students, teachers and all the adults in schools and will also be a much-needed change in schools. Now is the time to innovate like never before, and we need to take this opportunity to revolutionize the concept of school.

Honestly, when you think about it, in most places (at least places I am familiar with) school looks a lot like it did when I myself attended with some modern upgrades: LCD Projectors, more access to computers, etc. I started Kindergarten in 1974. So, what do we need to really be thinking about to revolutionize learning and schooling?

Embrace On-line and Authentic Remote Learning

We have been thrust into remote learning. Either we are teachers adapting learning or we are working with our own children to adapt to remote learning, or both. We know that what we have been asked to do in short order is not what true on-line/Remote learning could look like if we were intentional about it. Indeed, on-line learning is not for everyone, so a crucial mistake would be judging this experience and dismissing it as a vital model for learning. Embracing authentic remote learning with willing students would allow schools to be flexible with space and allow classrooms to have fewer students. So, how might this look:

  • Hybrid Learning: Some students may take some of their courses as hybrid online and have some face-to-face. Perhaps these students would alternate when they come face-to-face with the teacher, every other day or one group in the morning and one in the afternoon.

  • Full Remote Learning: Some students would benefit from complete on-line learning that is attached to a public school. That is, students would not come to campus but would learn remotely with carefully designed, engaging lessons.

  • Full Face-to-Face Learning: We know that some students need the interaction of the school to feed their need for community or to support them socially and emotionally and in other ways. There would be some students who never do remote learning, but they learn and have classes in a brick and mortar building everyday, much like it is now—with some curriculum changes, I hope (see below)

There are plenty of models of remote/on-line throughout the country; however, most of the models are relegated to special schools or Early Colleges or the ilk. Having students learn remotely either hybridly (not a word, but since we’re dreaming, right?) or fully keeps a Connection to the School that is vital for some. Students would be able to participate in the school’s extracurricular activities as well with students that they have known. The kind of learning that students want to do may not require them to go to another school to access a specific mode of learning because our innovation so far have been to create innovative models outside of traditional schools, leaving schools to be innovative schools or schools that have some innoivative features. The truth is that schools are archaic structures.

Think of all of the innovations that we have been thinking about within the confines of a 30-35 student classroom and think of how they might flourish in flexible learning environments. Think here of Genius Hours, PBL, Inquiry based learning.

Review and revise current curriculum requirements

This is a big one that can come out of this rethinking learning. I feel that curriculum and credit hours are for the most part archaic structures. Now, do not get me wrong, there are benefits and values to having students learn history, math, English, and science, and for sure, especially, electives and arts courses, but the way we teach them and sequence them--well--needs an overhaul. I have always said that students will live a full productive life—gasp—without reading Romeo and Juliet. News flash: Thousands of kids are because they did not read it when it was assigned. That is not to say that we do not need curriculum standards, but we need to look comprehensively at what do students really need, and how can we structure learning so that they get the kind of learning that they need? Think of all of the innovations that we have been thinking about within the confines of a 30-35 student classroom and think of how they might flourish in flexible learning environments that push us away from dwelling in facts and move us toward integrated application. Think here of Genius Hours, PBL, Inquiry based learning, Maker Spaces and all the other innovations we have been trying to push withing the confines of a classroom with varying levels of readiness and willingness of students.

I think specifically of high school students since that is my realm. Surely, students need basic skills, and I am not proposing that we do not teach reading, math computation, and all the other necessary skills that are needed for thinking and application, so when we look at the scope and sequence of curriculum from Pre K-12, what is that we need to change to make a more flexible learning environment for students, particularly as they move to 6-12, where we know that interest really starts to wane? How many of us have known enthusiastic kids in elementary school who were waiting for their minds to be filled, but by the time they get to high school they are either “doing school” or flat out disinterested and everything in between?

One element that we do have control over is what we teach and how we teach, so I am not proposing that I have the answers, but I am saying we need to ask these questions. Now is as good a time as any, as we could start looking at what does remote learning sequences look like? I would argue that these sequences would look different depending on your mode of learning.

Last, I do think that we need to standardize learning so that we can keep up with it and measure when a student has met requirements, but I ask are the current requirements that live in most states really what we need to have our students focus on? Do they need 24 credit hours with 4 English classes, 4 Science classes, etc., or might this look different for our students? Now is the time to have these conversations and think about this.

Allow for Creative Scheduling

Many districts are bound to schedules largely due to transportation, which is a huge consideration for sure. I spent several years working on scheduling in a comprehensive high school, and I understand the challenges of making scheduling work, but we were able to do some things with scheduling that required some mental gymnastics, but were doable when we were intentional. So, let’s consider for a moment some alternate schedules for schools:

  • Multi-Track in the Day: When we think about the school day, basically running from 7:30 am to 3:45 pm on average in a district (that encompasses all levels). What would happen if we looked at having a school, and I am using high school here (arguably still the MOST traditional of models) with multi-tracks for the day:

> Some students would be enrolled on a traditional 8:00-3:00 schedule as they are currently.

> Some students come in for face-to-face learning from 8:00-11:00 every day and have remote learning in the afternoon.

> Other students come in from 12:00-3:00 for face to face and remote learning in the morning.

> Some students would be on only remote learning and attend office hours with teachers (We could relegate this to juniors and seniors only)

  • Staggered school day: With this option, students come to school in stages:

> Some students come in from 8:00 am- 2:00 pm for learning

2:30 pm- 6:00 pm other students come in for learning. Though there is a disparity of time, these again may be your senior students or students who are on a faster track than others. Yes, we still have the real and necessary problem of child nutrition, but surely, we can figure that out as well to make sure that students who need nutritional assistance are able to get it.

  • Year-Round options for HS: This one is one of my favorites and we should have already explored this option. Again, some districts may have. High schools can go to multi-tracks in the calendar year:

> Perhaps a school would not have 4 tracks but could have 2 tracks. In our district, I would support tracks 1 and 4 for students since these are mostly correlated with “traditional” calendars.

> One argument against this is athletics and arts, but we have middle schools who are figuring this out as well already.

  • Alternating Days for students: As we have transitioned into remote learning, we have been using a model of using 4 days for instruction and Friday as “Office Hours,” so let us play with that for a moment:

> Students may attend face-to-face learning on alternating days, so Group One attends Mondays and Wednesdays and Group Two attends Tuesdays and Thursdays, all for face-to-face learning. Fridays are office hours that are virtual, or students can come in by a teacher’s calendar for extra help, etc. There would still be some room here for students who need every day face-to-face to run that track as well.

Overhaul Teacher Preparation Programs and Teacher Roles

Of course, without a radical change in education in decades other than testing and more structures, looking at adapting schooling requires that teachers, students and parents visualize schooling differently. Not all teachers are able to offer robust on-line learning, but many can and some already do through flipping their classroom and other innovative strategies. I propose that schools have teachers who are designated as On-Line Learning Specialists, and we train and support them as such.

Just like students, teachers may be a hybrid, where they are teaching some students on-line and face-to-face, just face-to-face, just remotely or a combination. In fact, some teachers may not be tied to s a specific school for remote learning. This approach will also revolutionize teacher preparation programs as we prepare teachers to harness technology to deliver instruction.



There are some obstacles to this dreamworld I admit. The ones that I think about off the top of my head are

  • Equity issues—we would not want to further divide students with changing or adapting structures of schools. Also, students who may have access to be able to do online learning in any form would likely have parents whose schedules could support that model—either they work from home or not work at all and can supervise students. Some parents will not have that luxury even though their child would benefit from a different learning model. So, we would have to ask how might we address this issue when students should be learning remotely in some way but their home structures do not accommodate that model? Community Partnerships?

  • Arts Programs— I am a huge fan of the arts in public education, so I would not want to see any innovation squash the arts in any way, so we would have to be thoughtful about how students have access to music, drama, visual arts, etc. The good news is that students who are learning in a new innovative way would still be attached to their comprehensive school, so they would be able to participate in the arts programs. We could also get creative about how we teach the arts remotely. I do not have the ideas for that, but collectively, we could figure that out too.

  • Bussing/ Transportation—All of the logistics of schooling are huge. Transportation in many school systems is like running transportation for a city, so careful consideration would have to be given here. If students are coming some days or parts of days, what does that look like for transportation? Again, not my expertise, but wouldn’t it be fun to bring a bunch of minds together to see what this looks like?

  • Special Education- this is another topic that is important to me. We know that there are programs across this country who are doing amazing work with special education kids whose needs run the gamut. We know that there are some programs that could not be done virtually, but we would have to look at the way that special education services are delivered, and I have to wonder if addressing some of the curriculum issues will also help support special education students in some areas?

So, I will end with another literary allusion from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Puck says,

If we shadows have offended, Think but this, and all is mended, That you have but slumber'd here While these visions did appear.

And this weak and idle theme,

No more yielding but a dream

So if this post did offend, know that it was all a dream; however, if it got you thinking about possibilities, let’s spur this conversation onward and continue to linger here, and hope “human voices” don’t awaken us.

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